Back to the drawing board: it's time to rethink wolf recovery

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The last few months have been heady ones for wolf advocates.  First, a federal judge in Montana issued a preliminary injunction restoring the gray wolf population in the Northern Rocky Mountains to the endangered species list; a move which prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to seek a voluntary withdrawal of their decision to end Endangered Species Act protections for the population.  Then, on Monday, another judge in Washington, D.C., struck down the Service’s decision to strip protections from the Midwest’s wolf population.

Both decision were legally sound. The Montana court’s opinion was more sweeping and substantive; the D.C. court’s was decided on a narrower, legal grounds, but together there’s no doubt that these cases are also a swift kick in the pants for Fish and Wildlife Service. I hope they will prompt the agency to fundamentally rethink its approach to wolf recovery.

Gray wolves are a vital part of wild ecosystems.  They once roamed across the United States, from Maine, to Oregon, and down the spine of the southern Rocky Mountains.  We need to think about wolf recovery across the lower forty-eight, not just in the few places where wolf populations have rebounded.  Not every state can or should be home to wolves, but there’s plenty of suitable wolf habitat in Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and the Southwest (just to name a few).  That’s why earlier this year, NRDC filed a petition with the Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare a nation-wide recovery plan for gray wolves.  Such plans are actually mandatory under the Endangered Species Act, but the Service has ignored its obligation to prepare a nation-wide plan for wolves for decades.  Once we all agree on what true wolf recovery would look like, we’ll be able to more effectively and defensibly grapple with the status of wolves in different regions of the country.